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The Importance of Data Collection: Digging into the National Survey of Online and Digital Learning

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure”

– Peter Drucker, management consultant, educator, and author.

As the executive director of the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association, Dr. Tricia Donovan knows that online learning is growing each year within Canadian post-secondary institutions. Until the Canadian National Survey of Online and Digital Learning launched in 2017, however, there was no official way to track this crucial data. For Dr. Donovan and her team, she considers Peter Drucker’s quote to represent the crux of what they believe in and why they do what they do. “We’re trying to capture the trends and what’s happening at institutions — those are all pieces that help inform decision-makers how online learning is here to stay,” says Dr. Donovan.

Since 2017, the Canadian National Survey of Online and Digital Learning has been tracking the status and development of online, distance, and digital learning across post-secondary institutions in Canada. Here at Campus Manitoba, access to education is at the heart of everything we do, and we’ve been proud to be an annual sponsor of the survey since its launch. Through the results of this survey, Canadian post-secondary institutions now have data to help make decisions and implement strategies to successfully encourage growth in online and digital learning.

Opportunity for growth

To help us understand the significance of the 2018 survey results (and, specifically, what they tell us about the state of online education in Manitoba), we talked to Campus Manitoba’s Kim Grenier Mintenko (A/Executive Director) and Carley McDougall (Special Projects Coordinator), in addition to Dr. Donovan.

While the 2018 survey shows that 17% of Canadian post-secondary students took at least one online course for credit, the results in Manitoba came in below the national average at 11%. Nationally, 8% of all credit course enrollments were fully online, while in Manitoba the same result was only 4%. But according to Grenier Mintenko, we shouldn’t be discouraged by these lower percentages: these numbers show a major opportunity for growth.

Teacher standing in front of podium and behind a screen.
Faculty are struggling with the additional effort required to create and deliver online courses. Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Of course, there are several barriers that Manitoba and the rest of the country will have to overcome first. According to the 2018 survey, 85% of responding post-secondary institutions reported that “the most significant barrier to the adoption of online learning was the additional faculty effort required to develop or deliver online courses.” The second most prominent barrier, as reported by 73% of institutions, was “inadequate training/pedagogical knowledge available for faculty in online learning.” According to Grenier Mintenko, this indicates that there is a need for more support and training to better prepare faculty and instructors in using digital technology for online courses.

To help break down these barriers, Campus Manitoba is committed to creating more professional development opportunities in the online learning sphere in Manitoba. Earlier in 2019, we hosted a H5P professional learning day for our partner institutions. H5P is an educational technology platform that facilitates the development of interactive online course content. Professional development opportunities like these are key ways we can continue to support our partner institutions in staying up to date with the latest trends in online education.

Access to education

Hands typing on a computer searching online courses
Online learning continues to rise throughout the country. Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Year over year, online learning continues to grow nationally – preliminary results from the 2019 survey report a 10% national growth over the previous year. But one of the most inspiring statistics when it comes to the future of online education in Canada is that 78% of respondents considered the learning outcomes of online courses to be the same as those from traditional in-person courses.

The shift toward more accessible, online learning opportunities is growing with each year, and at Campus Manitoba, we look forward to seeing how we can continue to improve access to these options at our partner institutions, and in the overall post-secondary community in Canada.


Campus Manitoba is a consortium of Manitoba’s public universities and colleges. Through collaborative projects and shared services, we facilitate student mobility and expand access to post-secondary programs for students in Manitoba. In addition to campusmanitoba.ca, our websites include ecoursesmb.casetyourcourse.ca, and openedmb.ca.

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